Portra Color Film shooting advice needed

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by kbrede, Jun 19, 2012.

  1. kbrede

    kbrede Member

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    I'm off for a trip in less than two weeks. I've decided to shoot film exclusively, even though I've only shot a few rolls. I'm going to take Portra 160 and 400. I shot a roll of 400 a couple weeks ago. I used a light meter and mostly used the settings the light meter gave me in incident mode. I took a few shots where I spot metered the blue sky and whatever I was shooting, and averaged the exposure. All in all most of my shots turned out OK.

    I've read a little about filters for color film. Are there any must have filters I should be taking for Portra? One of the cities we're visiting is around 10,000 feet so I was thinking about taking a UV filter. I read that's good at elevated positions for haze. I'll be shooting landscapes and city/people shots. I've read that shooting under artificial light requires a filter to remove color cast. I'm going to avoid that by switching to B&W film, if I shoot indoors. I also have a linear polarizer I can take.

    The reading I've done in terms of film exposure is geared toward B&W. Are there any differences in use of the zone system or exposure in general that I should know about for Portra?

    I've ordered a few extra rolls of portra and will be practicing with it until I leave.

    Thanks for any advice you can give.
     
  2. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Portra 160 is an amazing film, especially for mixed lighting conditions where you have a blend of tungsten, fluorescent and "daylight" balanced light sources. Quite honestly, with that film specifically and with color negative film in general, you really don't need to worry about color correcting filters. If you want to see some examples of what it can do, take a look at my San Francisco nighttime shots -
    http://www.theflyingcamera.com/portfolio.cfm?nK=14553&nS=6&i=179794#0
    About the only filters I'd be worrying about at that altitude would be the UV and maybe a polarizer. Where are you going on the trip?

    Your best metering strategy if you have a spot meter, is to pick an object that you want to render the brightness equivalent of medium gray and set your exposure accordingly. Color negative film has so much latitude that you don't need to worry too much about controlling contrast. If you are not confident in your spot metering skills, then stick to incident reading as a general practice.
     
  3. kbrede

    kbrede Member

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    Good to know that I don't have to worry about mixed lighting. Those are some great shots. What aperture and shutter speed do you generally go with for shots like that?

    We are headed to Ecuador and Galapagos.

    I'm not very confident about picking out medium gray. My spot metering has been limited to: meter black, close two stops; meter white, open two stops. That and averaging out wide dynamic ranges and hope for the best. :smile:
    Thanks,
     
  4. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Definitely bring a polarizer, if you're going to the Galapagos. Use it judiciously in Ecuador - it is easy to over-polarize your skies and end up with near-night indigo sky with an otherwise obviously daylit photo when you're at those high altitudes. For the night stuff, I'm always on a tripod, and generally somewhere around 15 seconds to 1 minute 30 seconds, f-stop ranging between f8 and f22. Remember with color negative film you have reciprocity to calculate, but generally it's only 1 stop extra unless your metered exposure time is over 1 minute. What I saw online about Portra 160 is that less than 10 seconds metered exposure requires NO reciprocity correction. 10-100 seconds, 1 stop, and not recommended beyond 100 seconds. Those minute and a half exposures I've done are including reciprocity compensation. Those are rare, however - most exposures are in the 15-30 second range, including reciprocity compensation.
     
  5. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    You're likely to encounter some strong contrasts with fairly bluish shadows under open skies at higher elevations. I would strongly recommend carrying a couple of light balancing filters. I personally
    use an 81A for general overcast, and an 81C for shots in deep blue shade. Don't count on the film
    itself to automatically correct for this. That would be a myth. Things like polarizers are unrelated,
    and are more a creative option. Skylight filters are a more complicated question, and can help with
    UV sensitivity affecting sharpness over distance at high altitude. My experience with this is mainly
    with Portra 160VC, which is probably similar to the current films; and in this case I had the best
    results with a light pinkish-amber Singh-Ray "KN" UV filter.
     
  6. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Shoot at box speed, have fun.
     
  7. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    The best advice you can get!
     
  8. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    If you are worried about color issues, shoot reference frame with a "known" target in the lighting that you are in. Doesn't have to be exotic; a grey card is great but your light meter or a sheet of white paper is just fine.
     
  9. kbrede

    kbrede Member

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    I have to plead ignorance here. What does taking a reference shot of a grey card do?
    Thanks,
     
  10. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Having a "known" that is in the same light, in the same scene, allows you or your lab to match color balance to that reference point.

    Doesn't have to be a grey card either. My favorite reference point is the dome on my incident meter but I've profiled my hand, several faces, ...

    In my darkroom I use a Beseler PM2L. I program it (set the dials) to the known reference, say the dome, and adjust the enlarger filters to center up the needle for each dial and I'm ready to print.

    The program is essentially the paper "profile", it does take some work to make the profile but once you have it it's easy as pie to set up. Insert the reference shot, use the PM2L to set the color head, insert the "real" negative, print.

    This typically yields a workable proof with no color cast on the first try.
     
  11. F/1.4

    F/1.4 Member

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    I feel alot of people here are overcomplicating things. This whole metering with a gray card and using color correction filters is baloney unless you want to spend all your time trying to nail exposures instead of enjoying yourself.

    If you want to play it safe, just shoot at half box speed and let the meter do its thing. Color neg is simple and easy, you can overexpose 3 stops and still be totally OK. Just have fun.
     
  12. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I kind of agree with this....

    Knowing OP is not familiar with precise metering methods, it might be better to use whatever the metering method his camera provides and just concentrate on subject and composition. Only compensate for condition like backlit scenes and some known extremes. Color negative film has this amazing exposure latitude anyway. Vacation and trips are awful place to learn new techniques. You either have it before the trip or you run the chance of not having very many image to remember your trip by.... Unless he learns quickly with some hands-on expert guidance, there's more chance of messing up badly than doing better than camera would meter.

    In other words, set it at box speed and enjoy!
     
  13. kbrede

    kbrede Member

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    Thanks everyone for your help. I think I will try to keep things simple. I am going to take a light meter with me. I'll use incident for most situations and use spot for dark or light subjects. For wide dynamic ranges I'll probably just average the high and low spot ranges and hope for the best. I've got a little time to practice before I leave. I certainly don't want to be fumbling with the equipment the whole trip. I'm only taking enough film for two rolls a day. One of the reasons I want to take film, over digital, is with digital a lot of my vacation is spent looking through a viewfinder. At least with film I'm forced to look and think about my subject, before taking the picture. :smile:

    One thing. F/1.4 suggests shooting at 1/2 box speed. Tkamiya suggests box speed. If I shoot at 1/2 box speed, that would overexpose the film, if I'm thinking about this correctly. Would you do this because it's better to overexpose than underexpose and the 1/2 box speed is kind of a built in fudge factor?
    Thanks,
     
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  15. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    You lost me on this one. It suggests other things to me.

    But to add to the good advise you just got... let me suggest that you not go on vacation with either a camera or a film that you are not familiar with. Otherwise, use Portra, box speed, meter with your camera... and forget all of "the fancy stuff". Focus on the image and the memories.
     
  16. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    p.s. don't stress yourself by limiting to 2 rolls per day. Bring enough for 4/day and shoot what you want.
     
  17. kbrede

    kbrede Member

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    This post should clear it up. :smile:

    http://www.apug.org/forums/viewpost.php?p=1357808

    Well it was either digital which I'm familiar with but sick of, or film. I've thought about it a lot. I know I can come back with good images if I go digital. But with digital I feel this compulsion to just keep shooting. I'm on a whale watch boat and end up looking through a tiny viewfinder at the whales practically the whole time. With film I don't do that, I can't. Even though I don't know the camera well, or any film well; I think I'll have a better overall experience on the vacation, if I go with the unfamiliar in this case.

    Will do. I have no expectations of bringing back great photographs. Hopefully I'll have a couple keepers though. :smile:
    Thanks,
     
  18. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    F/1.4: You are the one overcomplicating things by giving out incorrect generic advice. If I was going
    to spend a lot of money on a vacation with an unfamiliar film, I'd certainly want to do a little advance homework, then do a variety of test shots before leaving, and have them processed to
    review the results. "Winging it" based upon alleged exposure latitude and old-wives tales about ASA
    speeds doesn't work all that well with these newer films. Yes, you'll get "something" printable. But
    why waste money on Portra if you just want smudgy drugstore prints. Any amateur color neg film
    will give decent skintones, as will poorly exposed Portra 160. But what about everything else
    potentially in the scene? If the shot is in deep shade, and you rebalance the film to warm in printing
    to preserve the skintones, the other hues will be way off. Maybe this doesn't matter to the individual, maybe it does. He can decide. But the film won't cure this issue by itself.
     
  19. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    Oh, yes. I'm red with embarassment. I thought you were refering to the aperture, not the member. :redface:
     
  20. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    If it were me and I wanted to keep things real simple, I'd simply leave a slightly warm skylight filter
    on the lens all the time, or better yet, an 81A, and expose at box speed (160, internally metered
    with the filter attached). This way the lens is protected, and it's a lot easier to correct for a bit
    too much amber if needed than for excess blue (which is almost certainly going to be the case at
    higher elevations). In the old days, folks would rate the ASA way down, and this would at least give
    sufficient exposure to the yellow dye layer, but at the expense of unecessarily cross-contaminating
    the dye layer lower down the curve. Portra will give better color purity at rated speed, and it's so
    much easier just to correctly filter in the first place. At least, when I'm personally out snapshooting
    with a Nikon and don't want to fuss with a bunch of different filters, I just leave the 81A on the
    whole time whenever bluish lighting conditions are a risk. With tripod work and bigger cameras, I'm
    a lot more specific in procedure.
     
  21. timparkin

    timparkin Member

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    Unless you are printing onto paper, you don't need to use filters (maybe the UV is worth it if you are really high).

    As for exposure, I've done quite a lot of testing and the dynamic range is immense in the highlights, up to +14 stops

    I exposure Portra for the shadows and let the highlights go. Portra 400 place the darkest shadow with detail at -3, Portra 160 I would expose the shadows at -2 stops. The advise to shoot at half box speed isn't a bad one as long as you know why :smile:

    Because of this, my Portra 160 landscape exposures very often end up as exactly the same as my Velvia exposures... that tells you a lot about exposure rating..

    Portra 400 copes OK at box speed because it has more scope in the shadows..

    Here's a portra 400 shot..

    http://static.timparkin.co.uk/static/tmp/portra-test-pp.jpg

    This was reading from 4EV to 19EV and nothing is blown or blocked

    here's another scene with the same dynamic range where I've opened up the shadows and burned the highlights to show what real data is there..

    http://static.timparkin.co.uk/static/tmp/dynamic-range.jpg

    I tend to only use a grad if I want to reduce the grain or get smoother colour when I know I'm going to burn in skies a lot.. Even then I tend to only use a soft grad instead of a hard one - completely optional for most work though.

    Tim

    p.s. As a good example of how much dynamic range it has - I was shooting a job on my new GX617 where you have to lock the cable release wide open to use the ground glass. I forgot to close the shutter before loading the film and hence my first exposure got about 30 seconds at f/5.6 instead of 1/15 at f/16. Now most people would say 'yep, that's blown out now!!'. I scanned it for a laugh as I thought I could see something - amazingly the scene was all there!! It was grainy as hell but it was there never the less!! That's a 12 stop overexposure!!
     
  22. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Some of this is probably not suitable info for the original poster (overly complicated) ... but in terms
    of factual quality, there is a huge distinction between dynamic range of a film ("latitude" per scene
    contrast), and that point at which the dye curves start to overlap and contaminate each other.
    In many landscape or enviro portrait applications, Portra 160 is going to look undersaturated - it is,
    after all, mainly a portrait film - once you boost contrast, either PS or via masking, those otherwise
    "minor" color repro errors in non-skintones are going to get exaggerated too, mostly irremediably.
    Correct exposure with appropriate color balancing for the actual K temp is going to significant improve (or optimize) what these films are actually capable of. Usually with negs, people just expect
    a degree of off-tone mud, so when a "better" film like Portra comes along they yell "Yippee", even
    though they could do a lot better job with it if they paid attention to certain details. All you've got
    to do is study the published dye graphs to see the truth of this statement. Photoshop won't fix
    a serious exposure error, even if the general subject is all there. Two differerent problems.
     
  23. timparkin

    timparkin Member

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    Could you expand on this as from my own admittedly naive reading, a one stop increase in yellow and a one stop decrease in cyan would mean a huge shift in temperature but only one stop doesn't move significantly up/down the dye sensitivity curve?

    Also, as far as I know, Porta is actually a combination of three different sensitivity layers for each colour and hence the film almost works as if it' shifting registers. 3 or 4 stops over exposure and you're into the medium speed register, 8 or 9 stops over exposure and you're into the very slow film register. Does that make sense?

    Tim
     
  24. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Yes, you are absolutely correct in your thinking.

    It goes something like this. If you follow F/1.4's suggestion over mine, for the same scene, you will over-expose by one stop. Question is, is that a big deal? It isn't. The negative will be a little denser, but that can be compensated when prints are made. It simply isn't a big deal at all. I bet the images you are taking now are more than one stop off from optimum exposure. It's easy to do that and I do that all the time. I don't always take so much care in everything being optimum.

    I said to use the box speed because that's what I do. F/1.4 said half the box speed because for most negative films, error on the side of over-exposure is safer than under. Basically, how big is a "pinch" of salt?
     
  25. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    By the way....

    I'm thinking OP is in an age group where film is "new". Over the last few decades, there were all sorts of cheap cameras made with inaccurate or no metering what-so-ever. Many point and shoot and ALL of disposable cameras are this way. Yet, they often produce good images. Negative films aren't that sensitive to small errors. It's WAY more forgiving in magnitude of several stops when compared to digital. Don't worry so much.... Enjoy your trip and the company of whomever you'll be traveling with. You'll be fine....
     
  26. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I do enjoy Portra and it's exposure latitude. There are many way to manipulate it's output and good reasons to do so. The thing is, there's not much point in doing things differently unless you have one of those good reasons.

    Personally I'm also a little lazy and enjoy easy printing negatives and one of the things that I've learned is that shooting box speed and processing normally is truly reliable and can provide great (not just good, truly great) results.

    Kodak (and Fuji and Ilford) actually measures the box speed per an industry standard, if you use your incident meter and your shutter and aperture are accurate you can get very close to shooting at the standard, which means you can print in a nearly standard manner.

    Shoot at box speed and have fun. Life will be good.